Efficient Brainstorming – The Marathon Schedule

Maybe you need a new theme. Or a new set of activities to better engage your attendees. You could try to develop fresh ideas on your own – just you, your squish ball, and your blank whiteboard. But you risk coming up with a mere variation on a theme, versus an entirely new approach.

An efficient brainstorm lets you bounce ideas off of your colleagues, and kick the tires of each suggestion. They can be a challenge to schedule, but with the right structure, can be easy to manage. By following the sample brainstorm schedule at the end of the post, you and your team will walk out with a sense of accomplishment and clear next steps.

The Process:

Distribute agenda and team assignments in advance
Set expectations early and keep your brainstorm session focused on deliverables – not logistics – by distributing this information ahead of time. And write it on the board as your framework for the day to keep you and your team on track.

Designate a Scribe
The facilitator is not the scribe. Writing while talking is a skill – and if you aren’t that good at it, best to delegate this function to someone else. These notes should be in an outline format and follow the agenda.

Schedule 90-minute chunks
The next time you’re in a meeting, check your watch at the 90-minute mark and note the energy level in the room. It’s probably flagging. The average person’s attention span is 90 minutes – often shorter if they aren’t engaged in the discussion. While it’s tempting to keep pushing ahead, you’ll get more out of your team if you take a break.

Choose 4 Topics to Discuss
Each 90-minute section should focus on 1 area. For a day-long session, you’ll have time for 4 topics to cover. For example:

• Theme
• General Session
• Audience Participation
• Pre- and Post-Communications

You topics may vary, but stick to 4 and let your team known ahead of time what they are. It’ll let their subconscious start thinking about it before they set foot in the meeting.

Work in 30-minute Increments
Break each 90-minute section into 30-minute segments.

In the first 30 minutes, identify the issue and briefly provide any background information. For the remaining time in this first section, you and your team can engage in blue sky thinking. Allow enough discussion for each idea before moving to the next.

In the next 30 minutes, review your ideas and identify any potential challenges. This is the time to prune the ideas that lack traction with the group.

In the final 30 minutes, resolve any outstanding issues and rank your ideas for presentation to the group later, including identification of any problems and your group’s solutions to these. If you need more information before reaching a decision, flag the idea for follow-up.

Schedule 15-minute breaks
Write these times on the board and stick to them. This gives your participants windows to schedule phone calls and check emails.

Take 1 hour for lunch
The brain needs food to function. Rather than scheduling a “working” lunch, which is often more lunching than working, take the full time to break. This not only gives the mind a rest, but also allows it reset for the afternoon sessions.

Plan Next Steps
Once everyone has completed the report outs, summarize plans for next steps. If there are outstanding issues, task a team member to get the information and report back to the group at the next meeting. Schedule this follow-up meeting no later than 2 weeks from your initial brainstorm.

Sample Schedule

8:30 – 8:45 Intro
• Objectives
• Format
• Schedule

8:45 – 10:15 Topic #1
• 30-minutes – Blue Sky
• 30-minutes – Nuts and Bolts
• 30-minutes – Summary

10:15 – 10:30 Break
• Snacks

10:30 – 12:00 Topic #2
• 30-minutes – Blue Sky
• 30-minutes – Nuts and Bolts
• 30-minutes – Summary

12:00 – 1:00 Lunch

1:00 – 2:30 Topic #3
• 30-minutes – Blue Sky
• 30-minutes – Nuts and Bolts
• 30-minutes – Summary

2:30 – 2:45 Break
• Snacks

2:45 – 4:00 Topic #4
• 30-minutes – Blue Sky
• 30-minutes – Nuts and Bolts
• 30-minutes – Summary

4:00 – 4:15 Break

4:15 – 4:30 Group Report Outs

4:30 – 4:45 Summary and Next Steps


Scheduling a daylong idea cramming sessions are exhausting – no question about it. But they are an extremely efficient way to gather and integrate many perspectives. Avoid the creative, but chaotic free-for-all by creating a schedule and sticking to it.

Your colleagues – and their brains – will thank you for it.

The 7 D’s of Delivering Great Meetings

How many times have you been asked to create a meeting that is “fresh”, “innovative” and “relevant”?

You may answer with a confident, “no problem!” But internally, you’re wondering what these words really mean for your next event. In fact, you may immediately go down a road of rethinking the agenda, seating, breakout sessions, etc.

But this misses a critical first step.

You need a plan.

Without it, you risk throwing random ideas at a moving target. Not exactly a receipt for success.  Instead, use the following process to generate targeted ideas that not only meet your audience’s needs but also preserve your team’s sanity.

1.       Discover

Find out what your stakeholders want, from your senior level speakers to your first-time attendees. This can be done easily via survey or a series of brief interviews. Ask questions like:

  • What meeting activities are most important to you?
  • What keeps you up at night?
  • How do you like to give/receive information?

2.       Define

Clearly articulate what you are doing – for example, a 2-day meeting, a global town hall, or an executive roadshow. And be sure to identify any pre-established parameters, such as location and duration, or elements, such as a general session or awards recognition, so you and your team know how big the sandbox is and what toys are in it.

3.       Discuss

This is your brainstorming period – with some guidelines. Specify a length of time to blue sky ideas for each element or parameter, including whether the element should be removed all together.  It is also important to incorporate any information gathered in the Discovery Phase.

4.       Develop

Ideas without a plan of execution are just sticky notes on a wall. Too often brainstorming comes up with big ideas that generate big high fives, but then can’t be brought to fruition. Eliminate this potential roadblock by making the “how” part of your brainstorm. If any information is lacking – “Does anyone know the max file size for our intranet?” – assign someone to get the answer and report back to the team.

5.       Decide

Now is the time to cull your ideas, determine which fit within your organization’s culture, budget and abilities. Save any ideas that don’t make the final cut for a later discussion. You may discover that they are appropriate for a difference project or may serve as the catalyst for another idea.

6.       Deliver

Present your ideas to primary stakeholders, with a brief overview of the thought process, needs met, and anticipated response. Keep the discussion high-level, delving into the details when asked, but being careful not to overwhelm with minutiae.

7.       Debrief

After the event, meet with the same brainstorm team to review how well the ideas worked and what could be improved.  This provides the foundation for brainstorming your next event, which will, no doubt, be even better than your last.

By bringing more structure to your brainstorm session, you and your team can design a meeting that is as easy to ponder as it is to produce.